Saturday, February 2, 2013
PONDICHERRY, IN THE LIFE OF PI
A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books The Life of Pi by Yann Martel is a novel set in Pondicherry, at least a part of it. Recently I read the book and being a historian by inclination and profession decided to locate the sights and scenes of the novel in the actual real context. The surreal echoes of the novel in some ways reflects the very real spiritual ambiance of the city, I had an earlier opportunity to research the history and built heritage of Pondicherry when Professor J A K Tareen requested me to do the Pages from History. Since then I have been interested in the past of this city where I have lived and worked for more than a quarter of a century, a city I now consider my home as my child was born here. The past creeps upon you in Pondicherry" the names of the streets, the town planning with is grid like pattern of streets and residential areas, the division of the town into a black town--ville noir-- and a white town--ville blanche--the churches and temples and above all the spiritual radiance from the Ashram which houses the graves of both Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. Any visitor to this city leaves a part of his soul behind when he or she leaves.Life of Pi is also a story of struggle, longing and memory making it a great piece of contemporary literature. The novel is a first person narrative of a boy,Piscine Moiltor Patel, named after a swimming pool in France. The French presence is still heavy in Pondicherry, The history of Pondicherry really began when the French East India Company in the late seventeenth century acquired a piece of land on which it buit Fort Barlong, perhaps the very site of the Government Park which stands opposite the Governor's Palace in the heart of the White Town. We know a good deal about the life and conditions in Pondicherry in the eighteenth centry due to the fortuitous survival of the Journal of a bi lingual trader and merchant of the town, Ananda Ranga Pillai. In the early centuries of the Christian era, when Rome was the most powerful empire in the world, the emporia of Podule is mentioned by the Roman geographer, Pliny. Perhps it sttod close to the placid waters of the Ariyankuppam River.